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Council supports provincial grizzly experts

Ministry of Environment calls on VANOC to refine location of legacy trails

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By Alison Taylor

Council is calling on Olympic organizers to heed the advice of provincial grizzly bear biologists in their bid to build recreation trails in the Callaghan Valley.

On Monday night council unanimously endorsed a motion in support of the Ministry of Environment’s position, which calls on the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games to do a grizzly bear hazard assessment in the Madeley Valley to refine the location of the so-called legacy trails at the Whistler Nordic Centre, and, if need be, seasonal closures of the trails to ensure human safety.

“VANOC — please listen to what the Ministry of Environment bear biologists are saying,” said Councillor Eckhard Zeidler as he appealed to his colleagues to back up the ministry’s position at the meeting.

George McKay, VANOC’s director of environmental approvals, stressed this week that VANOC is listening to the feedback and it will dictate the final product.

“This process is about getting public feedback to help us design the project to minimize the impacts and I can assure you that adjustments to the trails, the locations, and the way that they’re developed is very much in the cards,” said McKay.

As he spoke Zeidler held in his hands a copy of the draft Sea to Sky Land and Resource Plan — a plan that shows the Callaghan Valley as part of a Grizzly Bear Recovery Area. The draft LRMP calls for recovery of grizzly bear populations and reductions in their mortality, with a higher priority given to completing work in areas that are being developed for the 2010 Games.

“This is the principle that we’re after,” said Zeidler.

He asked council to support a MoE letter, dated April 5, 2007 and sent to the Environmental Assessment Office, which outlines a clear strategy to mitigate the impacts any new trails will have on grizzly bears. The EAO will determine if VANOC will get approval to build the trails.

Tom Bell, regional manager, environmental stewardship of MoE, did not return phone calls from Pique Newsmagazine this week but in his letter to the EAO he states:

“The scientific evidence and information is clear that grizzly bears currently live in the Callaghan Valley… It is also clear that, based on spatial distribution of the sightings and DNA evidence, the proposed Legacy Trails network transects occupied habitat. MoE is confident that Grizzly bears currently use the footprint of the Trails Network, not just the perimeter around it.”

VANOC, however, has released its studies on the grizzlies, which say the 25 kilometre trail legacy can be built without significant impacts to the bears if VANOC and the Whistler Legacies Society follow through on management plans and mitigation efforts.

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